The worst thing about Formula One right now is its policy on grid penalties for using extra engine components in a season. The solution isn’t to make the problem worse by dropping the number of allowed engines per season from four to three, but the BBC reports that F1 is still considering it anyway, despite the fact that anyone with a brain is can see that they’re wrong.
Formula One has planned to drop its number of allowed engines down to three for 2018 for a while, and of course, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has been pushing hard to get them to reconsider, per Autosport. Horner’s team is one of F1's poster children for unreliability in recent years, frequently butting heads with their engine supplier Renault over it. Of course they want to nuke the engine limits from orbit.
But now other voices of common sense are speaking out against the idea. Recently crowned 2017 F1 world drivers’ champion Lewis Hamilton flat out told the BBC that the three-engine deal will suck:
Hamilton said reducing the number of engines would mean drivers were able to push hard in races less often.
“I don’t like the idea of going to three. That sucks. Sprinting is what we are missing in F1,” Hamilton said.
He said increasing the need to manage engines in races to extend their life combined with the weight of the cars - which is going up next year because of the introduction of the ‘halo’ driver cockpit head protection system - made racing more unappealing.
Hamilton also complained that the plans for 2018's cars will make them as heavy as a bus, “like a NASCAR [stock car],” but the three-engine idea was his biggest beef. Drivers can’t push the cars as much as they and their fans want them to if drivers must save the engines. You have to back off. At that point, you’re stealing the World Endurance Championship’s engine conservation game, and no longer driving like you’re in a quick F1 race.
It’s good to hear Hamilton—a driver whose engine supplier Mercedes hasn’t had any grid penalties for engine component swaps this year—say that this three-engine plan will suck. Red Bull, whose supplier Renault has racked up 330 grid places’ worth of engine penalties this year, can be easy to ignore as they’re obviously speaking in their own self interest.
Honda has it even worse, racking up 355 grid places’ worth of engine penalties despite only supplying McLaren’s two cars with engines. These oppressive engine penalties have made qualifying in the latter part of the season over the past couple years a farce, particularly for teams like Red Bull and McLaren who struggle with reliability.
I love seeing fast laps as much as anyone else, but if you know the starting order isn’t actually set by those laps thanks to dumb penalties, where’s the incentive to even tune in? You might as well rename the whole thing Frickin’ Rad But Totally Unrelated F1 Time Trials and set the grid by drawing numbers out of a hat.
Anything that happens off-track and in the stewards’ office is hard for fans to follow, especially when you get into complicated rules that require a detailed explanation in their own right. When F1 is looking to expand its appeal to more fans, it needs to limit the amount of race-affecting decisions that are made off the track, where fans can’t see. We want to see drivers earn their grid positions, not get bumped ahead or behind because someone’s turbo got swapped overnight while we weren’t looking.
The problem is clearly the engine limits. I’m all for developing a lower-cost power unit for F1 so that more manufacturers could join the series, but the past few years have proven that four engines isn’t enough for manufacturers who struggle to get these engines right. Allowing five per season, as Horner has argued for, seems like a better idea.
Listen to your current champ, F1. This three-engine plan makes Bernie Ecclestone’s insane idea of wetting down the track with sprinklers and that garbage qualifying system everyone hated in 2016 sound like reasonable ideas in comparison.